The River of Life

The River in the Bible - Seventh and final in a series

Ezekiel and Daniel received visions from God while they were by rivers. Ezekiel saw the cherubims of the Lord by the River of Chebar in Babylon, and above them, the throne of God and "the likeness of his glory" (Eze1:28). Daniel received prophecies and saw angels, the Lord and himself by the Ulai River in Elam and the Tigris River in Persia.

There are angels nearby, or soon to arrive for our help, no matter where we are.

By the Chebar the Lord charged Ezekiel to speak God's words to the Jews in exile. He would be a watchman to warn a rebellious people and then to encourage them. Many visions were given to him to share, yet his prophecy is perhaps best remembered for the Lord's promise to give his people a heart of flesh and remove the stony heart that prevented their faithfulness and obedience. (Eze 11:19; 36:26) We need warnings and preaching, but we're hopeless without the gifts and mercy of God.

Ezekiel's final vision was of a temple that was perfectly and specially prepared for the coming of the Lord to his people. Its dimensions were larger than real life; the idealized temple Ezekiel perceived was too large to fit in the area where the Solomon's temple lay in ruins. But to impress his audience, the dimensions were "exact, to show that the promise is certain; equal, to denote harmony; and vast, to mark majesty and grandeur." (Albert Barnes commentary)

It was a temple where animals were sacrificed and priests ministered just as when Jesus came, yet it stood beyond that era too. From under its threshold waters flowed forth, at first ankle deep, then to the knees, then impassable. (Ez 47:1-5) They gushed into the Dead Sea healing its waters, except for some miry places, reserved for salt. (Eze 47:11) Everything shall live! The river was the gospel going forth from Jerusalem to quench all thirst, over the wide world, for “whosoever believes.” (Luk 24:46, 47)

When Daniel was a young man he interpreted the dreams and visions of rulers, but as an older man he was given visions, and angels interpreted them for him. In his visions where he was by a river, angels stood on the banks of the river, and the Lord stood above the river instructing the angels. (Dan 8:16; 12:5-7)

Daniel had prayed for the fulfillment of Jeremiah's prophecy that 70 years would elapse before Israel returned to her land after the exile in Babylon, and the the temple would be rebuilt. In response he was given a fuller picture not only of that certainty but also of many events that would trouble the world and the people of the Lord.

He was a man greatly loved by God (Dan 9:23; 10:11) and the Lord knew he could entrust him with the prophecies that have shown believers over the ages that God is in complete control of every detail of history.

By the rivers, Daniel learned that in latter days a fierce king would destroy the mighty and holy people, (Dan 8:24) and the power of the holy people will be scattered. (Dan 12:7) And though the people that know their God will be strong in ministry, nevertheless they shall fall by the sword, and by flame, by captivity, and by spoil, for many days, and the king who honors the God of forces will be in control. (Dan 11:32, 33, 38)

These bitter prophecies in part refer to Christians today, and they are good reason to keep our focus on the man above the waters. Yet, a day will arrive when sorrows are past.

Zechariah saw a river flowing out of Jerusalem, in a day of victory when the Lord shall be king over the earth.

And it shall be in that day, that living waters shall go out from Jerusalem; half of them toward the former sea, and half of them toward the hinder sea: in summer and in winter shall it be. And the LORD shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one LORD, and his name one. (Zech 14:8-9)

John the revelator saw the coming of the Lord and the new heaven and earth. There will be no more sea, no sun nor moon, no night, BUT THERE WILL BE A RIVER — the river of the water of life, clear as crystal flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb, watering the tree of life whose leaves will heal the nations. (Rev 21:1, 23, 25; Rev 22:1, 2)

And see! That river is here now! Let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price. (Rev 22:17)

The River of Life is the gospel truth shared across the centuries. We will quote it as spoken by the Ethiopian at his baptism: I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Acts 8:37)

The Jordan

The River - Sixth in a series

The Jordan speaks to us of initiation. Jesus was baptized there before he began his public ministry.

The Jordan itself was baptized by fire when the Lord rained down brimstone and fire from heaven, transforming its beautiful plain into a dead sea (Gen 19:24), still the lowest place on earth.

Elisha parted its waters, initiating his own ministry, by striking it with Elijah's mantle that fell as he traveled to heaven in a whirlwind. (2 Ki 2:14) Elisha considered it a better river than any other nation's because it belonged to God's covenant people. Thus he sent Naaman the leper to dip in it seven times for healing. (2 Ki 5:10) The Jordan cooperated with Elisha, even floating an axe head for him in a time of need. (2 Kings 6:5, 6)

The Jordan parted its waters for the priests carrying the ark of the covenant as the Hebrews crossed over to Canaan after their 40 years in the desert, initiating their reign in the promised land, and Jericho knew it! (Joshua 3:15, 16)

Jacob was by a stream that flows to the Jordan when he wrestled all night with the angel and was then renamed to Israel, initiating the designation of God's people (Gen 32:28).

Gideon crossed over the Jordan with his 300 troops "faint though pursuing" to return control to Israel after the Midianites had bullied them long enough, initiating a new day of rulership for the Lord. (Jdg 8:4)

It is still a river in Israel that does not dry up, a nahar, and a river of man in the sense that it is not generally chosen for navigation by vessels due to its course and seasonal fluctuations, but man's uses of it are many. In fact, it is still used for the baptism of Christians in Israel, mostly for tourists.

Jesus also spoke of a baptism not of water: "But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!" (Luke 12:50) He would be immersed in suffering to the end that we might be reconciled with the Father.

He was anxious to accomplish this baptism and wanted us to understand that if we are faithful, we will also receive that second type of baptism. He explained to his disciples that families, friends and neighbors would part ways as they chose life or death, that is, whether to follow him or to decline: "Suppose ye that I am come to give peace on earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For from henceforth there shall be five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three." (Luke 12:51, 52)

All those truly initiated to Life are initiated to War, to defend the faith. May the Lord keep us afloat by rivers of his mercy.

The Euphrates

The River in the Bible - Fifth in a series

The Euphrates is a river of mystery, history and boundary.

The fourth river to flow out of Eden (Gen 2:14), ancient as time, it joined its Edenic brother, the Hiddekel – also known as the Tigris, to flow as one to the Persian Gulf in southern Iraq.

Today, we locate the sources of the Euphrates in the Caucasus Mountains of the Armenian Highlands of eastern Turkey. The largest river of southwest Asia, its name means fruitfulness, with the masculine root in Hebrew meaning to break forth.

A mysterious word is spoken to the sixth angel of the Trumpet Judgments in The Revelation, "Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates." We then read,

"And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men. And the number of horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them." (Rev 9:14-16)

A demonic host of 200 million (Rev 9:17) were rallied by these four angels to foment a fiery destruction (Rev 9:18) of what would be about 2.5 billion people if this were to happen soon, since the world's population is estimated now at a little over 7.6 billion.

That these angels were chained at the Euphrates leads us to think they may have been those who "departed their habitation" and were chained thereafter (Gen 6:4; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6). Were they four in number to set forth with their legions from where life began, to the north, south, east and west, to destroy a third of the human race?

But why were they bound at the Euphrates? And why will the Euphrates dry up just prior to the Battle of Armageddon?* (Rev 16:12), Perhaps these mysteries can be solved by studying Israel's relation to this river.

The Euphrates owns a unique place in history for God's people. After we are introduced to it in Genesis 3, twelve chapters later it is proclaimed as the east to northeast boundary for Abraham's seed in God's promise that he would be a father of countless peoples and that his descendants would inherit Canaan land (Gen 15:18-21), which was formally deeded to him by God (Gen 15:9-17).

The promise and agreement is reiterated in Genesis 17, confirming the land as "an everlasting possession" for his family (Gen 17:8). After this, we read of peoples who lived beyond the river, in reference to the lands on the east of the Euphrates, over which Abraham had crossed from Haran as he journeyed to Canaan.

We read of Jacob crossing over the river Euphrates, leaving Laban (Gen 31:21), so, obviously, when he departed his home in flight from Esau, he crossed beyond Israel's boundary, yet he was among kin, as his mother had desired him to find a wife from her family. This pictures that a boundary can be flexible on rare, ordained occasions. Perhaps it also pictures Jacob as an outcast for his sin, foreshadowing the exile of Israel that would take place twelve centuries hence.

The boundaries of Israel were reconfirmed to Moses (Ex 23:31), who related them to the tribes (Deut 11:24); with the condition that their enemies would be manageable as long as the Hebrews obeyed the Lord's commandments.

Over the centuries they often lost control of their land to enemy peoples through backsliding, but the Lord would restore their ownership when they repented.

This pictures to us that God has firm boundaries: when we transgress them we lose his blessings and peace, but if we truly repent God returns the deed to the kingdom of heaven that is within us and restores his protection of us.

Will Israel's stated boundaries ever be restored this side of heaven? Today other nations possess this area.

David battled to hold the land deeded to Abraham (2 Sam 8:3; 1 Ch 18:3) and Solomon reigned in peace in Israel's full territory (1 Kings 4:21), but after that civil war led to a downward spiral and in only about two centuries, after much disobedience, first the northern kingdom and then the southern were conquered, and God's people were taken as slaves "beyond the river" where they remained 70 years before being permitted to return to their land by King Cyrus.

After that, they never again worshiped idols. However, the number who returned was small in comparison to those who were driven out. This reminds us that our love and longing for God and his law must be very deep-seated or we may never desire to return to his established order after being severely disciplined for disobedience.

There are three major boundaries to consider in respect to Israel, which is a type of each believer. First is the southern boundary over which the Hebrews came as they left their lives of slavery in Egypt. They were NEVER to return there, though at times they wanted to and some made that mistake. The Lord strictly forbid that; we must never return to our former existence before we were set free to serve Christ (Heb 6:4-6).

Second, the western boundary of the blue Mediterranean could picture the Lord himself. We must respect and honor the glory and magnificence of the Lord, and if we overstep our bounds through familiarity and lack of fear, we will be convicted of the sin of presumption. Truly, the Lord is our brother, but he is also almighty God. Then again, the Sea could picture peoples and nations that believers are invited to navigate in sharing the gospel: a friendly boundary that we should not view as impassable.

Finally, the east to northeast boundary is the Euphrates. First we should ask ourselves, are we living out to the boundary of God's gracious provision for our lives? Have we pushed forward to conquer all the territory he has allotted? Many will find joy and greater fulfillment by reaching out to their full boundaries in Christ's call to the abundant life.

Yet, the Euphrates speaks of a firm wall — the edge to what we may pursue and indulge in before we transgress God's laws. Staying within our bounds is a daily struggle and we need all the help we can get from the Holy Spirit, the Bible, prayer, fellowship and our church to keep ourselves in God's land.

A day is coming when all hell will break loose and the Euphrates will dry up.* In a conflagration of filth, madness and hatred the heavens and earth will pass away. (2 Peter 3:10) On that day we will want to be safe in Christ, so we strive today to respect all of God's boundaries.

*Could the time of the great battle be near? "In 2008, Turkey, Syria and Iraq instigated the Joint Trilateral Committee (JTC) on the management of the water in the Tigris–Euphrates basin and on 3 September 2009 a further agreement was signed to this effect. On April 15, 2014, Turkey began to reduce the flow of the Euphrates into Syria and Iraq. The flow was cut off completely on May 16, 2014. The Euphrates now terminates at the Turkish–Syrian border. This is in violation of an agreement reached in 1987 in which Turkey committed to releasing a minimum of 500 cubic metres (18,000 cu ft) of water per second at the Turkish–Syrian border." (Ref 1; Ref 2)

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